As the Bicentenary of Charles Dickens birth approaches, the BBC has pulled out all the stops, over the festive period we saw a wealth of programming dedicated to the great wordsmith, with several brilliant adaptions of Dickens’ classics. The jewel in the BBC’s Christmas schedule being Great Expectations, which featured a standout performance by Gillian Anderson, whose portrayal of the eternally jilted bride Miss Havisham was spine tingling.
The latest Dickens installment on Radio 4 see’s a colourful reworking of Martin Chuzzlewit, first published in 1844. The award-winning writer Ayeesha Menon has transferred the core narrative to a Catholic community, in the bustling metropolis of modern-day Mumbai. Starring Roshan Seth as the paranoid Chuzzlewit, who despises his greedy family to such an extent that he adopts a kindly orphan girl – Mary (Nimrat Kaur) to take care of him, as she will not inherit a single penny of his fortune, he is content that her care will be unsullied.
The Mumbai Chuzzlewits opens with an introduction by Thomas (Karan Pandit) an orphan boy who is drawn into the world of the grand Chuzzlewit’s – “This is Bandra”, he explains, “where I grew up, back then it was just a fishing village in North Mumbai, a quiet island of churches, cottages and rice plantations, the original communities of Catholics that inhabited Bandra were called East Indians, named after the British East India Company. That’s what I am – an East Indian.”
Thomas is the most endearing character, a sweet, shy, romantic who falls instantly in love with Mary; unable to broach the subject of his attraction to her, his love lays dormant. Upon a chance meeting with Chuzzlewit’s Grandson – Mickey (Zafar Karachiwala) whom he met for the first time as a boy, he learns that he and Mary are in a clandestine relationship, which enrages his elderly Grandfather when he finds out. Devastated that his love will forever remain unrequited, Thomas is soon swept up in the drama which unfolds.
Ayeesha Menon has done a sterling job in reinterpreting this much retold classic, the conflicting themes of greed, family and betrayal are played out sublimely. With the first episode over, I cannot wait for more.